Are you content with the word ‘content’?

Funny word, ‘content’.

Before we all went online it didn’t really exist in this way. We talked about ‘copy’ or ‘text’ or ‘collateral’ or maybe just plain ‘writing’. But now it has come to mean so much more. And the word ‘content’ has stuck, firmly ensconced in business parlance. It’s a powerful word in our web-driven world.

But, in the interests of clarity, what exactly does ‘content’ mean?

Here’s our definition:

“‘Content’ is the words on the page you are reading. It’s the copy on your website, the tweet you posted last night, the videos and images you share. When we’re talking about content we just mean words and information: the unique message you shape for your clients and customers. For your business it’s a body of work that will define what you do.”

How about you? Does this unscramble it? What does ‘content’ mean to you?

Other articles you might like:

(Lovely handwriting in the image courtesy of designer Ruth Bateson who works here at Spike Island: My handwriting is awful. Thanks Ruth!)

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  1. Sharon Tanton

    I think ‘content’ is a word where the meaning is a little bit slippery. In our industry I think most people understand ‘content’ in terms of ‘everything that’s written/spoken on your website.’ Take a few steps away though and I’m not so sure. It has lots of meanings and contexts – ‘the content of this programme may offend,’ ‘content may have settled during packaging.’ I’ll be interested to read other views on whether our definition is sound – especially as we’ve started writing Valuable Content Marketing and need to get it right!

  2. David Tovey

    For me ‘content’ works as a word to describe what goes into the message we are trying to communicate to the recipient via whatever medium. The words we speak, the words we write need to be carefully crafted – they always did but even more so today with the immediacy of so many communication channels.

  3. Charles H. Green

    I’ve often felt (and told you, Sonja) that ‘content’ is an unfortunate word.

    It is the first derivative of an abstraction, a bloodless cousin by marriage of something once related to writing. It reminds me of other words like “human capital,” “impact (as a verb) (or for that matter, “impactful”), not to mention “strategy” or “transformative.”

    “Content,” in other words, has come to signify not very much by way of content. The more we talk about content, the more vacuous seems the content that gets produced. Consider Housewives of Orange County, vs. The Andy Griffith Show (sorry for the American TV references). In point of fact, older “content” is jumping in value compared to new “content”–I’d argue because we didn’t used to think of it as “content.” (See URL below)

    But it’s also true that if we didn’t have a word that performed that function, we’d have to invent one. After all, content (for lack of a better term) has indeed jumped boundaries, and demands a name that distinguishes it across distribution channels, roles, and stylistic categories.

    So if we’re going to have it, I think you’ve done a very good thing in seizing hold of it and defining it. It’s the act of defining even more than the definition itself that is useful. That way we have to think about it, and can once again invest it with something intentional, conscious and meaningful. That helps take back “content” from the land of the content-free.

  4. Sonja Jefferson

    Hi Charlie. Thank you very much for your considered comments.

    Charlie – I had a feeling you might have a strong view on this one, from our previous conversations. “A bloodless cousin by marriage of something once related to writing” – you’re really not keen on that word!

    It is a pretty cold, horrid term in itself I agree but we really do have it. It’s here – (I love the ‘moldy old content’ phrase in the link you provided) – and we’ve grabbed it. It’s bandied around the business world with little clarity so we (Sharon and I) thought we’d make a stab at getting the meaning clear.

    Would love any views on whether our definition hits the spot.

  5. Sonja Jefferson

    Thanks David. You’re right – the extent and speed of communication today makes careful crafting all the more crucial. Despite all the noise out there, the art of writing and sharing the valuable stuff still sets us apart. Looks like you are doing just that through your new blog and Twitter activity! Hope it’s working for you.

  6. Charles H. Green


    I may have come off as overly critical–apologies for that. I really do think you’re quite right to grab hold of the word and make a definition or it that is your own. The act of defining the word really does help set it right, because it adds back in the thoughtfulness that can be missing. So, props to you for doing so.

    The parts of your definition that I like especially are the ones that emphasize that thoughtfulness: the…”unique message you shape for your clients and customers… [the] body of work that will define what you do.”

    I think that’s great. That’s what distinguishes you, Sonja, and your clients, from so-called “content farms,” business that produce literally machine-written gobbledy-gook meant solely to capture search-engine-optimizable words.

    I think content farms and bloodless SEO-driven “content” are the enemy. Your definition, which puts meaning at the heart of it, is an important distinction, one which I hope you continue insisting on in the fine work that you do.


  7. Sonja Jefferson

    Thanks Charlie. I wasn’t feeling attacked so don’t worry. Let’s wage war on meaningless SEO-driven content together. Anyone else up for the charge?

  8. Sonja Jefferson

    Here is Charles H. Green’s excellent article inspired by this debate!

    SEO and Content-free Content –

    Love this: Content without meaning is just “fodder for robo-marketing, a kissing cousin to spam” – Perfect!

    His tips:
    Don’t just produce content—say something.
    If your content doesn’t have a message, it’s just content.
    Don’t be content with “just content.”
    Content is less than the sum of the words; meaning is greater.
    When you write, speak or sing; do it with a real person in mind.



  1. Trusted Advisor » SEO and Content-free Content » Trusted Advisor - [...] Sonja herself offers insights in Are You Content With the Word ‘Content?’ [...]

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